I stare outside the window. The cold exterior is a vast, deep, dark void, but for a few still pinpricks of light, stars suspended in motion. The eerie glow of the UV light only visible by travelling near light speed circles the stars. The universe fades to a singe point.
The warp hole is in 30 krocks. Finally, I'll be out of this god-forsaken place. Fuck Neptune-371. Fuck mommy dearest, and disappearing dad. Fuck every single dipshit in school. I check the sorometer. This section is filled with debris and other rundown ships. Other losers, done with Neptune. I stop to calibrate my autonav. The sun looms in the back, far away. The autonav pings. The general path has been calibrated. I start up Bessy again.
That's what I call her, by the way. My ship. I found Bessy on back on Larissa. I had 22 spare panakis. She was being sold by some old dude, done with life. I was somehow able to get her for all my remaining panakis, and when I took her to the docks, I saw why. Her engine, her navs, they were all corroded and riddled with bugs. I got to work. I practically lived in the Ratana docks, fixing her up. All the money I had went into her. I barely went to school. Back then, I never really used her for anything but quick runs. Fuel is expensive. But hey, a kid obsessed with mechanics can dream.
One day, I was tinkering with the autonav when I met the old guy again. He said, "Live life. Get out of this place. And, it sounds stupid, but remember this old geezer." He chit-chatted, gave me some tea, then left. I found a few pictures of him underneath the seat. Actual printed photos on freaking snazzy Earth paper. So I stuck it on the window sill. Turns out his name was Robert Yang. On my last day in the docks, a lawyer came to the freebie place I was bumming out at, decorating my ship, and transferred 1300 panakis to my account. Being 17 and under a guardian account, I immediately took it out in cash. "Mr Robert Yang requests in his will that you recieve this letter and all of his money." I sat there for a moment.
That night, I was lying on the ship floor, staring at the stars through the glass ceiling. Suddenly, something came over me at that moment. "Live life. Get out of this place. And, it sounds stupid, but remember this old geezer." Why not? Why the fuck not? I stared at my phone. 56 missed calls from my mom. Probably wanting to leech off my job money. I heard her yelling at me. Hitting me with her purse. The fridge always empty, but her closet stuffed. Forget it, lady. I wasn't going back to Neptune-371.
So I called her. She picked up and started guilt tripping me for my panakis.
"Hey, Max. I got a letter saying you got 1300 panakis. We need to pay rent. Those should be mine. Give me them back."
I yelled back, "FUCK YOU, AND YOUR NASTY ASS FACE! Those panakis are from Rob to ME. I hope you rot in hell, you snivelling coward. You abusive jerk. You shit."
She screeched, "Come home, young man! I am your mother, and I provided for you. You need to RESPECT me. I'm going to call the police and get you back this instant!"
The clock chimed 12. "I'm 18 now. Anyways, I called you to tell you this: Fuck you. I'm out of here."
At that moment, I revved up Bessy and got started. I've been travelling for a day now. And I'm finally at the warp hole. Gonna open up a ship shop at Alpha Centauri. Travel around. Meet aliens, not just the Narfuli guys stuck stopping for gas in 371. Freelance a bit. I wire the operator 300 and sent the coordinates. Goodbye, Neptune. Goodbye, Sun.
I brace myself. I'm just a few metres away. From Alpha Centauri. From the escape. I pierce through the warp hole. The universe shakes and shakes like there's a giant man holding me and Bessy and fidgeting around. Slowly, the shaking dies down. I burst out, far from Earth. It's gonna take me another day to get to Alpha. Me and Bessy drive off into the distance, ready for our next adventure.
I thump onto the front seat of the ship. I'm beat. Advertising all day and no customers. I look out of the garage. Proxima B glared brightly on one half, but the other side was cold and dark. Uninhabitable, but the orbit was full of garages and motels, as it was a popular pit stop for its proximity to Earth. I warm up some water and slurp down my Cup Noodles. Somehow, the company is the only Earth brand from the 1900s that's still kicking.
I'm about to go to sleep, when I hear a ringing at the garage door. I groggily open my eyes and page them through intercom.
"Hello? Max's Machines here."
A Harok family stared at the camera. Haroks have three eyes, green, jelly-like skin, and pointed faces. Haroks were one of the first people that humans recognised as aliens. The UFO sightings of the early days were often the Harok ships. When frustrated Arizonians invaded Area 51 in 2077 during the Second American Civil War, they found the Haroks who managed to do the diplomacy required to stop the war, and later helped humans become advanced.
"Hi, I'm Rooni Lokhue, and it's a bit of an emergency. My ship broke down, and we have to get to Mars ASAP."
"Sure, come in. There's oxygen, by the way."
The family walks in. The ship is smoking. I take a look at the engine. It's busted. Looks like an asteroid collision. I grab my welding torch. Soon, it's working like just out of the factory.
"20 panakis, please."
Ms Lokhue hands me the money, then leaves. I think I can make rent this month. I head off to sleep. I need more customers!
When I wake up, I hear some banging around outside my garage. I get my suit and cams and find a guy taking down his sign from MY garage. "Khara's Kooky Ships: Main garage next door." As soon as this Khara dude sees me, he quickly puts up my sign and starts his jetpack. I notice a paint can in his hand. So he's the one graffiting the shop. What. The. Fuck. I repair my sign and use the strongest nails I have, then weld it in place. I paint over the graffiti, then seal it. But I'm not done yet.
Today's slow, and I only have 2 or 3 customers. But this time I close a little earlier. I sneak to the neighbours and paint "Ping us at 64377-009". One of my signallers, voicemodded. I reopen. Now let's see those little turds watch as people try to ping them and complain about the absolutely horrible customer service. Those poor dejected customers are gonna check out Max's next door, then find better rates, better tools, and nicer people. That night, I have 10 customers who leave me glowing reviews.
It takes a week for those idiots to find out. They call me.
"Oh hi. It's your neighbours. You were really rude and defaced our building, and that's illegal."
"So is graffiting and switching signs on other people's property. Do you have it on camera?"
They sputter around.
"I thought so. Truce: you get your filthy hands off of my garage, and I won't touch yours."
I've given them a taste of their medicine. I'm done now. Turns out though, they can't repair shit, and since they have such a great neighbour, guess who gets all the customers. In my regular hours, I've averaged 20 a day. Word for the wise: don't mess with me.
It's my off-hours. I lean back and look at the stars. Two months ago, I left Neptune. Eight months ago, I got Bessy. I pull out that picture of Robert. It sounds silly, but I want to talk to him for a moment.
"Hey dude. Just out here near Proxima. Don't worry. I'll be living the dream soon."
I stare at the sun. Just a tiny dot now. I'm going to make it. I know I will.
The sound of the radio klaxon blares. There are ships everywhere. A huge artificial ring filled with cities circles Proxima B. Shops, mechanic stations, houses, even. Centuries of innovation, shining and glistening, standing under the Proximian sun.
I park in the docks. I look at my balance. I have 1200 panakis. Will I even make it? I'll have five days human standard, according to the parking meter. The shop's gonna be at least a thousand. Supplies are gonna be pushing a hundred. And I need to save for gas and stuff. Will I even be able to do this? If I fail, I'm gonna be stuck practically homeless on Neptune. I pull out Robert's picture. He just stares up at me, dead serious. Screw it. I'll give it my all!
I go into the junction and take off my helmet. Nice, fresh oxygen. The buildings are huge and tall and you can see thousands of people bustling around, but it's still "Sierpinski Village". It even rivals the size of Neptunian cities, and apparently, this isn't even the largest place circling Proxima.
I dart through the crowd. "Excuse me, but where is the nearest shop pod seller?", I ask a woman. Her three eye stalks whip around like I'm some madman. "Polish my boots, insolent boy! Take it!" She hands me five panakis. "I don't-" She screeches. Jeez. I toss her back the panakis and go on my way. There's a map kiosk, so I stop there. A flying bird pet poops on my head. Someone spills a fizzy drink on me. Just. Great. Well, now I know that there are literally thousands of stores and somehow just 8 locations for getting a pod. On the other side of the city. I stop at a public restroom and try to use the towels to clean myself.
Transport is gonna be expensive, and I don't have a glider. So I walk the four miles on foot. By the end of it, my feet are pretty much meat loaves dangling off of my bones. Gross. I feel something. My bag!
I run. Fuck my feet, I need my stuff. I tackle the guy. He starts speaking. "キャ！どんな鞄？" This dude speaks with a Neptunian Japanese. I can't speak too well. "英語?" He nods. "What bag?" "My bag, in your hands, you little fucker!" He tries to wiggle away. I squeeze his arm. He lets go and I get away. I finally reach a store.
A Tozranish women stares at me. She's wearing one of those winged glasses that make any administrator or business associate look absolutely evil, and her smile looks like the smile of a shark who happened upon a juicy tuna. I don't trust her one bit.
"Hi! What are you looking for?" She glides over.
"Oh, just a decent pod for a mechanic shop. Something under a 1000."
"Yes, I see." She looks like she's swallowed a lemon. What's going on? "I'll show you what we have in stock." The back room is filled with a bunch of square pieces of material. Though they looked pretty small, they expaned to huge sizes and were pretty hit resistant. I looked at the options. I found something. Good for five ships, including my own.
"I quite like this one."
"Oh yes, very nice and spacious. That'll be 1100."
"How about 600?"
"I'll bump up to 740."
"929, take it or leave it."
"Sold!" I pull out my wallet.
She calls out, "Boys, now!"
My world goes black. When I open my eyes, I'm tied to a pole in a dimly lit room. It's dry and the ropes are itchy.
I look up. It's the bag thief!
"Hey! What's your problem, man?"
"What's your's, baka? Um, anyways, I'm your guard. If you want water, just ask. And I think food's coming soon. I'm hungry too."
"Okay, can I get some water please?" He grabs a bottle and puts in a straw. Shoot, when can I get my hands out? I decide to prod for information.
"What did I do wrong? I don't get it."
"Come on, you have to know."
"I really don't."
"Hint: we're the Gavinkaa Tigers."
One of the largest cartels. Illegal pets to substances that hooked you up almost within a whiff. A bunch of people I've never talked to, for good reason.
"God damn it, you come on our own turf like this? Jeez, baka."
"How long have I been out?"
"Almost a full 4 days."
My heart leaps into my throat. 4 days?! I have to go. Now!
A short woman, probably Varindan because of her pointy ears, walks in. "Haruto, door. Now, boy, why did he send you?"
"Who is he? Why am I here? I don't. Know."
"ROB, you dunce!"
"What did he do? Nice guy. Sold me his old ship and even gave me the rest of his money when he passed away. I didn't know him too well, but I tried. He was a lonely old man."
She looks like she's about to explode. She bangs her hand on the table. "That goddamn meddling detective. This guy doesn't know shit. Well, if you want to know, Rob used to be an annoying 'private eye' prick meddling in our pie like a swarm of flies. And a horrible boyfriend. He didn't cheat or shit, he was just so goddamn annoying. Not that it matters, because you're gonna die anyways."
"Haruto, give me the gun."
He fumbles around and hands her the gun. I close my eyes, then... THWACK. He stares, dumbfounded. The dude tripped and bumped the hilt of the gun into her so hard she got knocked out.
He stops, horrified, then looks at me. "We need to get out of here."
I don't feel too good about this. "Is this a trap?"
Haruto facepalms. "Really, dumbass? You were already in a trap."
"Do you have brains or not?"
I still have my hackles raised, but it's not like I have a lot of options. He unties me and we sneak out of the room into a mansion. This is huge. CH Postal Company. Yeah, right. They lifted that name from an anime! "Look normal, I do the talking. And wear this perfume."
We head for the doors. Just our luck we bump into someone. A burly Narfuli guy. "Haruto. Be careful. And who is this man?" I'm a little excited he called me a man, not gonna lie. "Boy fetch me this, boy, don't be so impudent, boy, blah blah blah," would it kill you to not be a condesceding prick?
Haruto introduces me. "An associate. Baklava."
"Damn, you go hard, don't you? What's your name?"
Baklava. What? Is that some code word? Yes, pastries are evil. Phyllo dough is so hardcore. "Um, yeah. I guess I do. I'm... uh... Nick Jones." Haruto winces. "Anyways, gotta go to his place to deliver stuff."
The guy stares at us for what was probably the longest second ever. "Can you get me some candy while you're at it?"
Haruto shrugs. "Okay."
We get the hell out of there. Cameras everywhere. Probably Gavinkaa owned. In the end, we find a decent alley.
I clear my throat. "Alright, is there a shop pod place that doesn't work for the Gavinkaa?"
"Erm... no. I can help you, though."
I pace back and forth.
"Listen dude, I gotta go... they'll be looking for us. I'm basically their slave." He holds up his tracker.
"Do I have one too?"
"Can I remove yours?" I pull out my screwdriver.
"Who carries screwdrivers around? Whatever. Sounds great."
"A mechanic." I open up the tracker. I'm careful to not jam the sensor. I make the edges a crude hover lift and set it to go in the opposite direction.
"We need to dye your hair."
"They'll be after you."
"Who carries hair dye around?"
"Hair and makeup artists."
He sprinkles the powder on me. Instantly, I go from deep brown to a striking red. He pulls out a contour kit and makes my skin like, 3 shades darker and gives me freckles. I look at myself in the eye pallette mirror. Who the hell is this dude? He also glamours himself up. I wait, desparate for time to just go a little slowly. He's finished. Minor changes, but now he looks totally different.
We walk to the shops. I don't want to show it, but my eyes swell with tears. I end up crying though. I haven't cried since I was a little kid, and I don't want to now, especially in front of someone.
Haruto looks at me. "What's wrong?"
I blubber, "We're never gonna make it! The parking ticket and- and the- gonna end now!" I devolve into a hot mess.
Haruto gives me a hug. It's a bit awkward. He whispers, "Then we'll need to speed up, won't we?"
I gulp and nod. I dry my eyes and enter a shop.
I pick out my pod, pay, and leave. I don't do any haggling, I get it for 1100. It's ride or die now. Just need to go a little longer.
It's an agonisingly long trek to the hardware sector. Haruto is still tagging along. I want to trust him, but that nagging voice in my head says no. As I'm looking for inductor tape, he asks "Erm... can I travel around with you?" I open my mouth to object, but somehow, I find myself saying yes. I get supplies for a full 100 panakis. It's set in stone. If we don't get back, I'll be even more fucked because I don't have any money left. We run, but end up walking, to the lot. Our feet are dying. A beady-eyed police man stares down my ship. I pull out with barely a few seconds on the clock.
We drift off to the other side of Proxima B's rings. I look at Haruto. He looks at me. There's only one hotpack in the ship...
It's 2336. I'm supposed to be sleeping but I can't. I look at Haruto sleeping on the spare futon. Turns out he won the hotpack. He lets out a little snooze. I feel a little uneasy. The huge ship suddenly feels smaller. Even with my mother, I was always out of the apartment, in some sort of shelter or on the streets, only stopping to sneak out some food or crash on the sofa when I couldn't find somewhere else to sleep. She didn't give a fuck anyways. This feels... new. Safer. I stare at the ceiling. I suddenly have so many questions. Wonder boy, tell me, what do you dream?
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